The Red-Haired Maniac asked this very legitimate question in a comment to my previous gameblog entry. If I'm going to build my own sweet retro-awesome campaign setting, why not use the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, the Cadillac of D&D editions? Why go with the now-obscure '81 Basic and Expert rules?
First of all, let me say that the RC kicks ass. It's the slickest incarnation of the Old Game and arguably the best "one book is all you need" rpg ever published. I think every serious gamer should own a copy. My own copy of the RC would be among the last items I would part with if I had to sell off my game collection to buy medicine for my daughter or something like that.
But it has a lot of stuff in it that I don't need. Stuff like the weapon mastery rules or the skills system. Don't get me wrong, the weapon mastery rules are wicked cool. But they also strike me as unnecessary to the essential D&D experience. And call me backwards-thinking, but the more I play D&D with a skill system the more I am convinced that bolting skills on after the fact was a bad idea. Hell, the 3.5 skill system is cumbersome enough that the prospect of new skill points almost makes me not want to go up a level. How crazy is that?
Then there are things like the proto-prestige classes and the mystic class. I just don't need that stuff junking up my campaign world or the rules I use with it. I mean, if a player approaches me and really wants to make his 9th level fighter into an Avenger I'm hardly the type to say no. But I'm not going to build my campaign around every half-baked class some power-mad player might want levels in. For that matter, if a player wanted to play a 1st or 2nd edition AD&D class/race combo I'm not going to turn up my nose. My campaign setting isn't meant to limit and define the PCs, it's meant to limit and define the game board those PCs move on. The point of the Brythunian Age is to use simple building blocks and my own extrapolations to construct my own personal vision of a D&D setting. The Rules Cyclopedia is already pre-loaded with a more-than-implied setting that I don't want influencing my work. No Mystara in my peanut butter, thank you.
On the other hand, the 1981 Basic and Expert rules have everything I need. Seven classes going no higher than 14th level, three alignments, 106 spells, a few dozen magic items, 28 pages of monsters. Some hard rules and a lot of guidelines and suggestions. Anything else I want can be invented or swiped. Maybe from the RC, who knows? What I do know is this: nearly everything I've purchased for D&D has been an expansion of some sort. Bigger, better, more of everything. Personally, I think there's still plenty to be done with those two 64-page softbounds. I know I'm letting nostalgia color my perceptions, but I also know that it is true when I say this: those booklets are the keys to unlocking a thousand ass-kicking adventures. I don't need anything else to play D&D.